New Haven, Hartford police seek state delay in closure of lock-ups

New Haven, Hartford police seek state delay in closure of lock-ups

New Haven Register, June 8, 2016

By Esteban L. Hernandez

New Haven and Hartford police are asking the state for an extension that would continue staffing the departments’ prisoner detention centers after July 1 to provide the agencies with more time to explore other staffing options.

New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman said Tuesday that he and Hartford Police Chief James C. Rovella asked Chief Court Administrator Judge Patrick L. Carroll III to review a request to extend his agency’s staffing for the lock-ups in the two cities until the end of the year.

The two chiefs were notified in April that because of state budget cuts, the judicial marshals would no longer staff be staffing the two facilities starting July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The chiefs’ request would give both departments additional time to develop a transition plan for staffing the facilities.

Both departments’ lock-ups are staffed by state judicial marshals, whose services are supervised by Carroll. “We don’t have an answer yet but we are very grateful that he is reviewing it,” Esserman said. Esserman, Rovella and their respective assistant chiefs met with Mike Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, last week to discuss some of the options for keeping the facilities open.

It’s still unclear how the facilities would be staffed. One option would be handing over the facilities to the state Department of Correction, while another would give the respective municipalities control over the detention centers.

The option sought by New Haven and Hartford police would postpone the departure of the marshals. “We are trying to help the best we can,” Lawlor said Tuesday. “None of (the options) seem workable at this point. They’re dealing with a very complicated situation, just like everybody else,” Lawlor said, referring to the judicial branch. Esserman said he doesn’t criticize the judicial branch because he understands they had “difficult” decisions to make.

The city’s detention center has been staffed by judicial marshals since 1993, Esserman said, as he then helped oversee the transition of the center to the marshals from the now defunct state sheriff’s department. “The consequences affect the two municipalities of Hartford and New Haven,” Esserman said. “To be given two months’ notice after 23 years ... it doesn’t give us much time to transition after 23 years.”

Closing the facility isn't an option back to top

Closing the facility in New Haven is not an option, city Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter said Tuesday. Carter spoke on behalf of Mayor Toni Harp, who was out of the office. Carter said the state has told them annual operation costs for the lock-up could run between $1.5 million to $2 million for the city.

Esserman said it would cost the Department of Correction about $4 million in annual operation costs. The sharp cost increase is due to state and federal standards and requirements for the DOC, Esserman said; the lockup in New Haven currently costs $1.75 million to $2 million to operate.

“We’re doing what we can with information from the state,” Carter said. “What we are trying to do is work in the most cost-effective way without compromising public safety.” Carter said one of the main reasons the lock-up at Union Avenue must stay open is because it provides services for incarcerated women.

Esserman had suggested in an email on May 18 that one option was closing the facility and moving arrested prisoners to the New Haven Correctional Center on Whalley Avenue. But Carter said the jail at Whalley Avenue doesn’t have space for women. Esserman also said Tuesday this is an issue that would prevent the Whalley Avenue jail from completely replacing the department’s detention center.

In New Haven, the uncertainty behind the lock-up is serving as a point of contention between the city’s Board of Alders, Harp’s office and Esserman’s office. The detention center’s future surfaced at the alders’ meeting Monday after Alder Al Paolillo Jr., D-17, expressed frustration with what he and several other alders see as a lack of communication between the legislative board and Esserman’s and Harp’s administrations.

“If we can do better, I accept that,” Esserman said in response to the alders’ concerns. Carter said he doesn’t think there’s a communication issue between Harp’s administration and the alders. “We communicate frequently and regularly with the Board of Alders,” Carter said.

The alders’ disapproval was evident Monday. They unanimously approved a set of policy amendments introduced by Paolillo that focused on increased accountability for the city’s Police Department. Paolillo also seeks more information about how the city plans to keep the detention center open. Alder Anna Festa, D-10, supported Paolillo’s policy amendments.

“It’s very costly to maintain a detention center,” Festa said during Monday’s aldermanic meeting. “It’s going to be costly for the taxpayers if we don’t hold the (department) accountable.” Many of the alders were unhappy with the time it took for them to be notified of the detention’s center’s potential closing, which they didn’t learn of until May. Festa added that it’s “irresponsible and disrespectful,” when information isn’t given to the board in a timely manner.

In supporting Paolillo’s amendments, Alder Sal DeCola, D-18, said during the meeting that the department frequently “blows them off,” instead of providing information. “Our police chief needs to know we are here for our people, not for him,” DeCola said. Esserman said Tuesday that he’s a big believer in working with Harp’s office and the Board of Alders, whom he thanked for helping with the hiring process of new officers and helping expand the department’s Shotspotter program. He said his department benefits from the support of the city’s alders. “We all need to pull together for the betterment of New Haven,” Esserman said.